Car pooling best bet for region

PUBLIC transport will be a private affair on the Northern Rivers, come 2036, Northern Rivers Regional Development Board executive officer Katrina Luckie predicts.

Even with an extra 70,000 people moving in along the coast, Ms Luckie said the region’s population would remain too scattered for private operators to provide affordable cross-regional bus services.

However, Byron Shire Mayor Jan Barham said the cornerstone of public transport on the Northern Rivers remained on the train line – particularly in Byron Shire where nearly all the shire’s towns and villages were built along the line.

Cr Barham said Byron Bay, Bangalow, Mullumbimby, even Billinudgel and Tyagerah were all built with the idea that the train line would provide transport links between them and the wider world.

The debate over the train line is likely to be resolved well before 2036, the point by which the State Government predicts Byron, Ballina, and Tweed shires will have taken on an extra 70,000 people. The predictions, which are themselves a matter for debate, say the Lismore local government will grow by a bit under 5000 people over the same period while Casino shrinks a little.

In the days before she was mayor, Cr Barham said she spent 10 years sitting on committees looking at a regional strategy with the State Government, and the train had always been a focal point for the region.

“The State Government engaged independent consultants who identified the rail link as an important part of accommodating future population growth in the region,” Cr Barham said.

“That’s why it was such as surprise (when the Transport Minister Michael Costa axed the service in 2004).”

The question of the line’s future is likely to be resolved next March when NSW goes to the polls. The Coalition is maintaining its promise to introduce a commuter rail service on the Northern Rivers if it wins the election. The sitting Labor Government has no plans for the line.

However, the train doesn’t address the many communities off the line, including Ballina, which, with 56,000 residents, will be the region’s second most populous shire after Tweed.

The obvious solution there is a bus service running up the plateau to Lismore and up and down the coast to Byron Bay and Evans Head.

However, Katrina Luckie said that service would not reach anything like the frequency or price of metropolitan commuter buses unless the State Government was prepared to invest, and lose, money on sustaining the service.

The more likely public transport plan for the region’s future was organised car pooling – something the Regional Development Association had already kicked off with its free Northern Rivers Carpool website

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